Talkin’ Broadway: Caroline, Or Change

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Jacqui Parker and Jacob Brandt

Everything about Caroline, or Change should work. The characters are interesting, full of the kind of emotion that practically demands show-stopping numbers. And the show-stopping numbers are in evidence, performed by a fantastic cast blessed with top notch pipes. There’s even at least three different “main” characters who provide the audience with openings for identification to offer easy entrée into the story, depending on who resonates most closely with you. So why is it that the technically excellent production ofCaroline or Change, presented by the SpeakEasy Stage Company in association with North Shore Music Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavillion failed to move me?

The play concerns the intersection of two families at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination. Caroline Thibodeaux (Jacqui Parker) struggles to balance raising her own children – especially budding activist Emmie (Shavanna Calder) – with her job as a maid to the Gellmans. Stuart Gellman (Michael Mendiola) lost his wife and recently married her best friend, New Yorker Rose Stopnick (Sarah Corey). He has retreated into his own world, but she tries to reach out to his son Noah (Jacob Brandt), who really only wants to connect to Caroline.

There’s no shortage of talent on stage at the Roberts Studio Theatre. Parker brings almost supernatural power to the difficult score. She is matched note for note by A’lisa D. Miles, who gives voice to many of Caroline’s fantasies as both The Washing Machine and The Moon. Brandt has cornered the market on adolescent Jewish boys in musical theatre, shining even brighter here than he did in last season’s outstanding production of Falsettos. And Calder makes the adolescent dilemma of simultaneously rejecting and loving her mother feel immediate and real.  Continue reading

Talkin’ Broadway: Homebody/Kabul

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Tony Kushner’s plays are often mistaken for political statements. Most of his works are set against specific political backdrops, from the Roy Cohn world of Angels in America to the civil rights struggle that sets the stage for Caroline, or ChangeHomebody/Kabul is no different, taking place in London and Afghanistan in 1998 during the reign of the Taliban. However, none of these plays are really about politics any more than Star Wars is about space travel. At the heart of Homebody/Kabul is a family drama that happens to play out in a time and a place when connections between men and women, east and west, were particularly strained. The central drama is not about whether the Taliban was right or wrong, nor is it about the place of women in society – it’s about finding connection. And unfortunately, Boston Theatre Works’ production, directed by artistic director Jason Southerland, could use a lesson or two in connecting.  Continue reading